Friday, 4 July 2008

Blogging in the extreme

Blogging is an indulgence of the ideologically pure. That is the message from a recent study on blogging behaviour in the US. People read blogs that echo their own political instincts and it tends to be individuals on the edges of the ideological spectrum (not extremists but those congregated away from the centre) who read blogs. They self-reinforce and get something from blogging that they don't get from the conventional political process. In a sense then, blogging is, in and of itself a rejection of conventional politics seems to be the implication of the study. But does it have to be this way?

If it does, then mainstream politics (and perhaps the mainstream media as a corollary of that) will simply reject blogging as the burblings of a disaffected minority. Coincidentally, I happened to pick up the article I have referenced above on the (generally excellent) blog site, Liberal Conspiracy, while ploughing my way through comments made in response to a post by the Government Minister, David Lammy, who had argued that the Labour party should look at adopting primary votes for selections. I happen to think that this is an idea that should should be taken seriously and argued so a couple of months ago:

What can Labour learn from the Democratic primaries?

David Lammy's article had some interesting points that I had expected to be picked up in the ensuing debate. That was naive. The debate soon descended into a stream of political hobby horses and attacks on mainstream politicians, especially those who dare to stray into the blogosphere. Nothing good can come out of the political process it seems. Only bloggers have the answer. It's a pity because any politician will think twice about engaging in this way again. How dare you look to have an open discussion if you, for example, voted for a 42-day pre-charge, detention limit or you supported the Iraq War, or you favour ID cards, or you want to reduce the term limit for abortions in the UK or any other positions that are not the conventional for the liberal left. Surely there's more to the blogosphere than this?

I regard myself as as being on the centre-left with the emphasis on centre but I don't feel uncatered for in the blogosphere. Blogs are far more spread across the political spectrum than the research suggests. Some are even funny. Or well written. When they are intellectually imaginative or irreverent, they can really contribute something to the political process beyond being laundromats for gossip that the national press won't run with (see for this style of blog.)

I would wholeheartedly recommend Liberal Conspiracy. It has run some really imaginative campaigns, particularly on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. This debate on David Lammy's post was so disappointing though because I really felt that it was exciting that a member of the Government would look to engage in this way.

Three years ago, a young Senator from Illinois, our old friend Barack Obama, posted on the DailyKos on the issue of a judicial appointment and the way that some of his colleagues were being criticised. As you will see, the post attracted 843 comments and it is worth comparing the tone of the majority of those comments with the tone of the comments in reaction to David Lammy's post.

Hopefully, David Lammy will actively engage with the debate but he would be perfectly within his rights to just walk away. I know that he is friends with the Illinois Senator so I hope that he will draw inspiration from him. More broadly, it is critical that the political blogosphere doesn't just become a self-indulgent exercise in screaming from the ideological edges. There has to be meaningful political discussion not just, if you don't agree with x or y then you are: (a) immoral; (b) a careerist; (c) a sell-out; (d) engaged in some mainstream political conspiracy; (e) a brainwasher; (f) all or some of the above and many other terms of abuse.

Without addressing and engaging with the mainstream, blogging will simply be a minority pursuit of ideological purity that will freeze in irrelevance and alienate the majority. It is far more exciting than that now, as sites such as Liberal Conspiracy constantly prove. Let's keep it lively and relevant.


  1. I think the best example of engagement we have seen so far was Tom Watson and the Civil Service Code for online activity.


    I'd also note that Obama's piece was written for a blog (but no idea whether it was ghost-written), while Daviod Lammy's was an extract from a speech (i.e., mainly one way communication) - although he did answer questions in the comments

    I think over here they still don't get "conversation".

  2. Let me add a suggestion:

    What we need is "set-pieces" to draw in politicians that then turn into converation.

    A podcast of a speech plus plenary questions might be one option.

  3. All good ideas and comments.

    P.S. Obama's speech was written by him because he did a follow up where he confirmed that he had written it.